Fianna Fáil backbenchers uneasy despite truce

Dublin TDs feel vulnerable due to damage done to government over Bertie payments

Fianna Fail backbenchers are uneasy about the prospects for survival of the government as the crisis abated following the three week controversy over the revelation that Bertie Ahern took gifts from a number of his friends in the early 1990s.

The party's Dublin TDs are feeling particulary vulnerable as it is widely felt that city voters are far less tolerant of unethicial behaviour by politicians than their country counterparts.

One Fianna Fáil TD from Dublin said that it was evident the party and the government experienced a significant drop in support following the so-called 'Bertiegate' crisis which almost led to the departure of the Progressive Democrats from government.

"There has been a significant decrease in support for the government parties. It is certainly going to make it difficult to retain Fianna Fáil seats in Dublin. In the first instance the election is a beauty contest and the government partners are not winning if they are fighting with each other," the TD said off the record.

"The second point is that Bertie Ahern is also damaged although he is still very popular within the party and with the public. My own view is that he is not a crooked politican and I have known him for a long time but it would be fooling ourselves to think that recent disclosures have not done real political damage. If there is another problem then I see us going into the election with a few independents," the TD said.Bertie and Michael

Fianna Fáil TD Peter Kelly from Longford said that there was great support for the Taoiseach, especially among women.

"The reaction I'm getting is that he is a great man and tell them not to be annoying him up in Dublin," Peter Kelly said. "I got phone calls from supporters saying that I have to support him. Nobody said that Bertie was wrong. It's hard to believe but it doesn't seem to have done him any wrong."

When asked if it had damaged the PDs, he replied, "Well the PDs will have to look after themselves now. On the ground it seems that the leader of the PDs is full of indecision. The country has to be run and differences have to be put aside."

Fiona O'Malley, Progressive Democrat TD for Dun Laoghaire said that the body politic had been damaged by the revelations concerning Bertie Ahern's finances but that she expects the government to run to its full term.

"Naturally, damage has been done to politics with the leader of your country going on about who was eating dinner and who wasn't. The Taoiseach and the Tanáiste have reached agreement personally on how to continue and I certainly would have faith that we will go the full term. This essentially was a matter for Fianna Fáil. The opposition in many ways successfully shifted the focus on to the PDs. We are always hit with that but I don't think that Fine Gael came out of it with any credibility because they didn't call for a vote of no confidence. They didn't have the stomach to pull down the government."

Her colleague and PD chairman, John Minihan, said that it had been a difficult few weeks but the government is now secure.

"It's over. We've come through it. It's now back to the business of the programme for government. It's been a huge distraction and there is no doubt about that but there are no tremors or aftershocks or whispering in corners. I've no doubt the government will go to the full term whatever the full term is and only one man knows that."

Asked if he thought mutual trust and confidence within the government had been damaged, he said, "I don't pick up any vibes. They have worked it through and they have come out with the proposed reform of the ethics legislation."

frank connolly and justine mccarthy